Editor’s note: Will the military scandal finally sink President Trump? A California Gold Star mother may have something to say about that.
If this is the scandal that sticks and brings down President Trump, it will be because of people like Karen Meredith, a Gold Star mother from Lincoln.
She has a starring role in a devastating ad slamming Trump’s reported comments disparaging America’s war dead and wounded veterans as “losers” and “suckers.”
“My son is not a loser,” Meredith says in the VoteVets ad. “My message to Donald Trump is this: You have no right being commander in chief.”
I met Meredith last October at a ceremony at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery to honor veterans who had been interred in the hallowed ground there without any loved ones present. She told me about her only son, 1st Lieutenant Ken Ballard, who was killed in Iraq in May 2004, who was awarded three Bronze Stars and who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Meredith is president of the Northern California department of American Gold Star Mothers and is also active in VoteVets, an advocacy group that claims 600,000 members and that is opposing Trump.
So it got my attention when I saw her on Rachel Maddow’s show on MSNBC on Friday night. Meredith, speaking from her home in Lincoln, said she wasn’t surprised by Trump’s reported comments: “He doesn’t seem to have a concept of service,” she said.
But they still felt like a “pinprick to the heart,” she said.
Asked about the president’s attacks on Gold Star parents, she replied, “I’ve already had the worst day of my life.”
She also debunked a conspiracy theory that VoteVets was given advance notice of the article containing the explosive allegations because there was no way the ad could have been produced so quickly. Meredith said she and others in VoteVets are on stand by and worked all night to put it together. “There was no collusion,” she said.
There has been a political firestorm since Thursday night, when the Atlantic magazine story broke. Since, major elements of the article have been confirmed by other media organizations, including Fox News.
It includes an incident on Memorial Day 2017 when Trump and his then chief of staff John Kelly, a retired general, stopped at the gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery of Kelly’s son, who was killed in Afghanistan. Trump reportedly turned to Kelly and said: “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?”
It also includes Trump not wanting wounded veterans to be part of a planned military parade because “nobody wants to see that.”
The allegations fit a pattern of comments including Trump’s criticism of the late Sen. John McCain. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said in 2015, in the early stages of his presidential campaign. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Trump knows how damaging this could be to his reelection campaign. So he and his allies in the administration and the media have been furiously denying and defending and deflecting. His campaign found some veterans to stick up for the president, as well.
“It’s a totally made-up story,” Trump said at a White House press conference Monday, adding that only “an animal” would say what he is accused of saying.
Even before this controversy, Trump’s support in the military had been dropping. In a poll released Aug. 31 by the Military Times and conducted in late July and early August, half of active-duty troops surveyed said they had an unfavorable view of Trump and 42% said they “strongly” disapprove of his time in office.
Last year, the president diverted billions from schools, housing and other construction at military bases for his border wall. More recently, Trump has downplayed reports that Russian intelligence paid bounties for the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Asked who they supported, 41% in the poll said Joe Biden and 37% said Trump. In a close election, the military vote could make a difference, especially in states with large military populations, including North Carolina and Texas.
And that would be just fine with people like Karen Meredith.